Tail Docking Reminder for Sheep Producers

With lambing season now in full swing, NFU Scotland is reminding sheep producers of the rules around tail docking.

Farmers are allowed to reduce the length of a lamb’s tail to prevent soiling of the fleece around a lamb’s rear and therefore reducing the risk of the lamb getting the painful condition known as Fly Strike.  During summer, flies can be attracted to faecal matter to lay their eggs and the resultant maggots can eat into skin and flesh causing significant pain and distress.

Although allowed to dock the tails of lambs, farmers are required to ensure that, after docking, the tail still remain long enough to cover the vulva in ewe lambs and the anus in ram lambs.

NFU Scotland Policy Manager Penny Johnston said:

“Proper tail docking of sheep is a vital tool in minimising the risk of sheep being affected by the painful and distressing condition known as Fly Strike but it is important that the long-standing rules around tail docking are adhered to. These state that the tail of a female sheep must cover the vulva and the tail of a male sheep must cover the anus. Tails shorter than these lengths will be considered to have been have been docked too short and enforcement action could be taken.

“Every year inspectors reprimand a minority of sheep producers for failing to comply with the standards for docking lambs’ tails and making the tail too short. Some of these compliance failures are picked up during farm inspections but the majority of cases tend to be discovered at shows.

“Inspecting officers are encouraged to use their judgement in deciding the appropriate course of action on discovery of a short docked tail and it is likely that the focus of their attention this year will be on the most recent lamb crop. This year’s lambs are clearly the best indicators of current practice on the farm so it seems right that they receive the greatest focus.

“It must be remembered though that the rules and guidance on the docking of sheep tails have been in place, unchanged, for nearly a quarter of a century so action against older sheep cannot be ruled out completely.  We have approached the enforcement agency, Animal Health, and asked for proportionality, especially when it comes to looking at the historic flock.

“Care should be taken during docking to make sure that tail lengths comply with the defined standards at all times. Particular care should be taken with show sheep, and when selecting individuals for showing, as these are the animals most likely to be inspected.”  


  • The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Sheep is available at:
  • The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations 1982 (SI 1982 No 1884), as amended by the Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No 114) prohibit short-tail docking of sheep unless sufficient tail is retained to cover the vulva in the case of female sheep and the anus in the case of male sheep.
  • Guidance in the welfare code states that farmers and shepherds should consider carefully whether tail docking within a particular flock is necessary. Tail docking may be carried out only if failure to do so would lead to subsequent welfare problems because of dirty tails and potential fly strike. If it is considered that both tail docking and castration are necessary, thought should be given to performing both operations at the one time of handling, so as to minimise disruption and the potential for mis-mothering and distress. Tail docking must be carried out only in strict accordance with the law (see above). The procedure should be performed by a competent, trained operator.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 67/11

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